What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
The biggest news in South Korea this week has been the death of a 21-year-old college student, Son Jeong-min. Son was last heard from around 2am on April 25, when he’d sent text messages to his mother and posted videos on Instagram of himself and a friend drunkenly dancing by the Han River. Son’s parents learned about his disappearance later that morning, around 5:30am, when the friend’s mother contacted them to say that Son had disappeared and that they should look for him.
An investigation into Son’s disappearance was conducted over the course of the next five days, but on the morning of April 30, a private rescuer and his dog found Son’s body in the Han River, near the place where he was presumed to have gone missing.
The entire incident gained major traction in the media from the get go, possibly due to Son’s father actively participating in interviews with media outlets and also writing about the progress of events on his blog. As it was later revealed that there were gashes on the back of Son’s head, an autopsy was performed to determine the cause of death. Despite the family’s active inquiry into the death of their son, the police have released relatively little information, and rumors and speculation are rampant. The friend who was with Son until his disappearance is under suspicion in the eyes of the public for various reasons, including: 1) that he phoned his mother at around 3:30am on the day Son disappeared, a fact he only disclosed when the police checked his phone bill. He explained that he had been drunk at the time and had told his mother that Son was asleep and wouldn’t wake up; 2) that he had Son’s phone in his pocket instead of his own. He claimed the phones had accidentally been switched in their drunken state, despite being different makes; 3) that when Son’s father asked for his shoes, in order to determine the exact location where Son supposedly fell and rolled on the ground (as the friend had described), he said that he’d thrown them away.
Son’s funeral was held on May 5, which is Children’s Day in Korea. In his very last blog post, Son’s father posted a letter he’d read at the funeral:
Jeong-min, a gift sent to me by the heavens,
I’ve done nothing to deserve a good son like you, and so I’ve always thought of you as a gift.
I’m very sad that you were only with us for 21 years, but you’ve given us so much; you’ve helped me and your mother see that life is worth living; and you’ve taught us what happiness is.
Without you, we would not have known the meaning of the word ‘happiness’.
I am heartbroken about our parting now, but I’m going to let you go because I know that we will meet again someday. We will always be with you and we will always miss you.
We’ll stay well until the day we meet again. Don’t worry about your mother.
Trust me… I love you.
— The late Son Jeong-min’s father, May 5, 2021.
The incident is currently under investigation, but for such a high-profile case, the police seem to be reluctant to release information.
When asked about the possible reasons for the police’s hesitance in an interview with Kim Hyun-jung on her News Show, Lee Yung Hyeok, professor of Police Science at Konkuk University, speculated that the police may not want to be accused of “publishing facts of suspected crimes” and may also be afraid of the criticism they will receive when they reveal whether they are treating this as a crime or an accident, which seems to suggest that the police don’t yet have enough evidence to make a decisive move.
(The police need to) inform the public of the truth regarding the important, basic facts as soon as they come up. Because people have the right to know, and also because unnecessary, made-up stories could violate the rights of those involved or generate prejudice against them, so I believe that it is necessary to provide accurate information, at least about the basic facts.
— Lee Yung Hyeok, professor of Police Science at Konkuk University, May 6, 2021.
All of Korea is watching, so hopefully we’ll have some answers soon.
In other news, Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung, who is currently considered to be one of the prime candidates for South Korea’s presidential election next year, wrote a letter to Hiroshi Kajiyama, the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, regarding Japan’s plan to discharge more than a million tons of contaminated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean. Japan announced its intentions on April 13 and, upon receiving backlash, Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso responded that the water would be treated before release and would therefore be safe to drink. This statement enraged not only the people of Japan but also those in neighboring countries. The US and Russia have okayed the discharge of wastewater into the ocean, as Japan has agreed to follow the international standards, but the UN expressed “deep disappointment” and “concern” regarding Japan’s unilateral decision. Japan argued that China, Korea, and other countries also regularly discharge treated wastewater from nuclear reactors, but some experts have argued that we cannot compare water discharged from working nuclear reactors to that from a nuclear reactor that has suffered an accident.
Lee Jae-myung’s letter comes amid concerns regarding Japan’s decision, made without consulting its neighboring countries, and the lack of transparency.
In the letter, Lee wrote:
The Fukushima disaster 10 years ago began with a natural disaster. It was an incident that served as a loud wake-up call to humanity, who had put cost before safety. … The discharge of contaminated water is an act which ignores the lessons learned from the catastrophe. It is a unilateral decision that will incur tragedy upon Japan itself. It neglects the lives and safety of not only the people of Japan but also the people of Japan’s neighboring countries, including the Republic of Korea. …
If Japan insists on carrying out the plan to release contaminated water from Fukushima, despite the concerns and anger of the international community, nature and humanity will suffer irreparable damage. And the responsibility lies solely with Japan. The Japanese government needs to take responsible action. I repeatedly urge for the transparent disclosure of the treatment process of the contaminated water from Fukushima, objective verification from the international community, and retraction of the decision to release contaminated water.
— Lee Jae-myung, Governor of Gyeonggi Province, May 6, 2021.
Lastly, on May 5, Children’s Day in Korea, surprising surveillance video footage emerged from an art museum. A couple of children and their father had visited Solgeo Art Museum in Gyeongju, where works of the renowned ink-and-wash painter Park Dae-sung were displayed, one of which was a 20-meter-long scroll, hung on the wall and spread out over a short display stand on the floor. In the footage, a child enters the room where the scroll is displayed and begins to touch the scroll and even step on it, while the father who follows him into the room takes pictures of him. When the museum officials noticed smudged ink and footprints, they checked the surveillance video and found the culprit. The artwork is presumably worth over ₩100 million (about $90,000). Although the general public and the museum officials were (rightly) incensed, painter Park Dae-sung was extremely generous to the family.
In an interview with JTBC, Park said:
Sure, sure. That’s how kids are. There’s nothing you can do. My kids were like that too. What do children know? Adults have to be careful. So I said there was nothing more to talk about.
— Park Dae Sung, ink-and-wash painter, May 5, 2021.
Regarding the restoration of his artwork, he said:
They said that there are marks, but those are part of the history too, so I want to leave them. I can restore it, but I don’t plan to.
— Park Dae Sung, May 5, 2021.